After starting their defence of the Super Rugby title with wins at home to the Chiefs (45-23) and then the Stormers (45-28), the Crusaders have lost successive New Zealand derby matches away to the Hurricanes (29-19) and most recently the Highlanders (25-17). They have been hit by injuries to some key players in the last couple of rounds but they will view a return to winning ways as essential here ahead of a visit to the Lions in Round 7.
The Sharks (30-25 in 2014) are the only visiting South African side to turn the Crusaders over in New Zealand since the Lions victory in Nelson back in 2001 and all 10 Super Rugby meetings with the Bulls on New Zealand soil have gone the way of the hosts by an average score of 37-15.
The Crusaders are now third in the New Zealand Conference, level on points with the second-placed Highlanders and 3 points adrift of the Hurricanes although those 2 sides have played 1 game fewer.
The Bulls will return to South Africa after this third match on tour. In Round 4 they lost 20-14 to the Reds in Brisbane and last weekend they went down 41-28 to the Chiefs in Hamilton, a game of 10 tries, 4 of which were scored by the Bulls. The Bulls were 18.5 point underdogs for their visit to the Chiefs last weekend and at halftime they led the game 28-14.
After starting their campaign with a surprise 21-19 home win over the Hurricanes the Bulls have slipped to fourth in the South African Conference standings, 14 points behind the Lions who have played a game more.
The Bulls have won just 1 of their last 13 in New Zealand, that victory coming against the Blues in Auckland back in 2013. The Crusaders are almost prohibitive 20 point favourites here in the point spread handicap, and will probably cover.
After 3 straight wins the Rebels tasted defeat for the first time last weekend when they went down 51-27 away to the Waratahs. The Rebels led that game 20-10 at halftime but early in the second half the hosts got on top and the Melbourne side, who had started the game as slight underdogs, finished well beaten.
Earlier the Rebels won their first 3 matches, covering handicaps each time with home wins over the Reds (45-19) and the Brumbies (33-10) either side of a 37-17 victory over the Sunwolves in Singapore. Despite last week’s defeat, they remain top of the Australian Conference 3 points clear of the Reds, 5 better off than the Waratahs and 7 clear of the Brumbies.
Since joining the tournament in 2011 the Rebels have won 4 and lost 9 of their home games against South African opposition. They have yet to beat the Sharks in 5 attempts, losing 4 and drawing 1.
The Sharks went off as marginal favourites with many bookmakers for last week’s visit to the Brumbies. It was their first match of a 4 game tour and they could only manage a losing bonus point after going down 24-17.
Defeat leaves the Sharks with a record of 1 win, 1 draw and 2 defeats. They also picked up a losing point away to the Lions in Round 1, they conceded some bizarre points in a 24-24 draw at home to the Waratahs and their only win came 50-22 at home to the Sunwolves.
Since 2011 the Sharks have played 14 matches in Australia winning 8 and losing 6 and their most recent meeting with the Rebels came in Durban in 2017 and it ended in a very disappointing draw. The Sharks have won both their visits to Melbourne by margins of 2 and 6 points but those victories came back in 2011 and 2014.
In the South African Conference the Sharks are in third spot with 9 points, just behind the Stormers on points difference and 10 shy of the Lions with those 2 sides having played a game more. After this the Sharks will cross to New Zealand to take on the Blues and the Hurricanes.
The Rebels are -5 at 10/11, I expect them to rebound and cover.
The Sunwolves are bottom of the overall standings having lost all 4 of their matches so far but last week they came within 2 points of the Lions (40-38) in Johannesburg. Despite being given more than 30 points start on the handicap the Sunwolves ran in 5 of the 11 tries in the Lions game and they picked up a second losing bonus point of the season.
The Sunwolves 2 home games this season saw them lose to the Brumbies 32-25 and the Rebels 37-17, staying within the handicap for the first of those matches. Their only other match delivered a 50-22 defeat to the Sharks in Durban and they now face New Zealand opposition for the first time in the current campaign.
The Chiefs were reliant on a second-half comeback to eventually see off the Bulls 41-28 in a home fixture last weekend. They trailed 28-14 at halftime last week and although they prevented the Bulls from scoring in the second half they fell short of what was needed for a bonus point.
The Chiefs now have 2 wins from 3 matches and after losing to the Crusaders (45-23) in Christchurch they got the better of the Blues (27-21) in Auckland. They are fourth best in the New Zealand Conference although just 7 points covers all 5 teams.
Understandably the Chiefs are strong favourites here, -24 on the handicap against the weakest team in the competition. No bet.
The Hurricanes return from a bye with a record of 2 wins and 1 defeat. They have bounced back from a surprise defeat away to the Bulls in their first outing with wins away to Jaguares (34-9) and most significantly at home to the Crusaders (29-19) in Round 4. The Hurricanes have won 6 and lost 1 of their last 7 New Zealand derby matches on home soil and in 2017 they thrashed the Highlanders (41-15) in a Round 4 clash in Wellington.
As far as the New Zealand Conference is concerned the Hurricanes come into this round in second spot, 3 points behind the Highlanders.
The Highlanders made it 3 wins from 3 matches with a 25-17 home victory over the Crusaders last weekend. It was priced up as a choice game by the bookmakers and the Highlanders scored 3 tries to 2. In Round 2 the Highlanders beat the Blues 41-34 in another home fixture and they also beat the Stormers 33-15 in Dunedin in Round 4.
The Highlanders now travel for the first time this season and in 2017 they won 1 and lost 3 of their 4 derby matches away from home with the only success coming against the Blues in Auckland.
The Hurricanes are priced up here at -5 at 10/11. Modest preference is for the Highlanders covering, if not winning.